The story of Hagar is a strange and disturbing one; particularly the last half where she is sent away (Genesis 21:1-8). Understanding the story is on thing, but trying to preach from it is another thing. Keeping with our series “Open Eyes” I want to share some answers to five questions we are asking of each week’s story.
Question 1 – What does this story teach us about God?
God puts up with a lot of stuff from us humans. In this story he has to deal with two broken marriages (so to speak), a widow, and an orphan all because Abraham and Sarah couldn’t wait just a little longer for God’s promise to be fulfilled. The shame that Hagar experiences, the pain that Abraham felt, the near-death experience that Ishmael endured could have all been avoided. Yet God doesn’t even seemed phased by all of this. He simply reminds Abraham that everything will be okay. He takes care of Hagar and makes a great nation out of Ishmael (which is another story entirely). His patience throughout is entirely too much for me to comprehend.
I’m also intrigued by the availability of God’s blessing. Ishmael becomes a great nation, the ancestor of the Arab people. Islam points to Ishmael as its “Isaac.” Yet God blessed Ishmael. How strange that God would bless our “enemies.” (I don’t know any American Christian that would not claim Muslims as their “enemy.”) What a strange thing to do.
Question 2 – What does this story teach about humanity?
Wow! We’re really fickle and nearsighted. First, Sarah made this mess herself. It was her idea for Abraham and Hagar to have a child. Now she wants to get rid of the woman. Second, Hagar has already encountered God in the wilderness the first time she ran away and yet here she has determined to leave her son to die. In fact, Hagar named God the last time she was in the wilderness, “The God who sees.” As she is dying of thirst God opens her eyes to see the well that has been there all the time.
How often do we manipulate our circumstances and then complain when it doesn’t work out? How often do we fail to see God’s provisions because we are so focused on our own desperation?
I also find it interesting that this story doesn’t let us blame anyone. I want someone to be responsible for this entire mess. However, God tells Abraham to listen to Sarah. God doesn’t see it as Sarah’s fault. God reassures and rescues Hagar. So it must not be Hagar’s fault. Ishmael is blessed beyond reason, so it can’t be his fault. Isaac is just a baby. It must be Abraham’s fault. Yet, you don’t find God laying the blame against him. What do we do when we have no one to blame?
Question 3 – What does this story teach us about creation?
I don’t have any idea. I would note though that the very desert that threatened to take Hagar’s life was also the means of her salvation.
Question 4 – What does this story teach us about salvation?
To understand the Hagar story from a biblical perspective you have to take into account Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Paul does not feel sorry for Hagar. Paul sees Hagar as an allegory. Hagar is representative of the law. Sarah is representative of the promise. Hagar’s descendants are born under law. Sarah’s descendants are born under promise. Salvation comes, therefore, not from the law but from the promise.
Question 5 – What does this story teach us about where God is taking history?
God is serious when he makes a promise. Ishmael is blessed because he is the son of Abraham. God will bless Abraham and all who bless him. Likewise, God will curse all who curse him. God made a covenant and he will make good on that covenant.
Come Lord Jesus.